Spring cleaning

Clean up your 'piling' system and make room for new ideas.

cleaning computer. 178951075
Thinkstock

It won't be spring for a couple more weeks, but spring is a great time of year to clean things up and to clear things out, so I figured we'd all want to be ahead of the game. This aptly named "spring cleaning" can be done any time of the year, but I find I am usually in the right frame of mind for it after a long, gray winter in Chicago. Re-organizing, or organizing, your work life can make room for the big ideas and innovations that really get you excited, so let's dive in!

Physical cleaning out

Throw away anything you don't need. You know that stack of unread magazines and other articles on your desk? The one that's starting to compost at the bottom? Set a goal either to be done reading them or to recycle them in the next two weeks. At this point, all they are doing is cluttering up your space.

If you can't bear the thought that there could be a gem of an article in them, flip through each one's table of contents. If you find an article you want to read, tear it out of the magazine and get rid of the rest of that issue. This will at least cut the clutter some.

Do you have a stack of business cards sitting in a drawer? If you took a card to be polite, toss it. If you meant to contact the person, do it. If you are not sure, either OCR it or type it into your contacts list and then toss it. Those cards aren't doing you any good unless you have access to the information on them!

While you are at it, organize the other paper on your desk into folders and file them away. Better yet, scan them, recycle them, and organize them on your hard drive.

Now that you can actually see your desk's top, wipe it down, preferably with something antibacterial. You eat off that desktop four or five days a week, after all!

Logical cleaning up

Before you shift your physical "piling" system to an electronic one by scanning everything in, take a look at how you have organized your hard drive. Is everything under "Documents" in Windows or stored directly under the name of your account in your Macintosh? If so, spend a little time and organize your storage. Clean up what you don't need any longer. Put similar documents together (all vendor contracts together, all projects in a main folder with sub-folders, etc.), delete or file away draft versions, remove temp files, etc.

During the course of the year, place new files into this hierarchy. Change it as you need to, but don't end the year with every new document back in one (logical) pile. If you find you can't keep things organized day-to-day, create a "Refile" folder, store new documents in it, and every couple weeks clear it out.

Mental cleaning up

You probably have a thousand different ideas, written on a thousand physical or electronic sticky notes, so get them all organized. If you took the time to think of an idea, it should be worth the time to remember that you thought of the idea! There are a number of tools that can help you do this, and I am not going to presume to tell you which one to use. I put mine into a to-do list manager that spans devices (iPhone, iPad, Mac, PC), but you should experiment to find a way that works for you.

Why bother?

Just like your computer's operating system, the more things you have to do at a time, the less time each task gets. Cleaning up actually frees you up to focus on getting your work done. If you end up with too much free time, you could relax, learn something new, sleep or explore one of those great ideas on your to-do list. You might even get out of your office or cubicle, walk around and talk to the other people running your business.

This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?

SUBSCRIBE! Get the best of CIO delivered to your email inbox.